I’ve written about my attached neighbor, Al, here. The short version is that he left this earth in early June in the same week and in the same manner as Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. I watched the coroner carry his body bag out of the house with the help of a young funeral home aid dressed entirely in black. 

The house fell to his cousin and an aunt, who alternated between bewildered, angry, and ashamed at the acquisition. They hired an auction company, which was a wise choice as the house was filled to the rafters.

Al’s father, a veteran, died the year prior, and Al hauled what seemed like all his father’s possessions into his house usually at night when he wouldn’t be questioned. Occasionally, he’d show me a war memento — a photo of a beautiful Japanese woman, an old newspaper, a medal. “Those are worth keeping,” I told him. He must have thought I meant everything.

July 4th weekend is State Street Garage Sale Day in our neighborhood. It’s legendary. Al hatched a plan to sell some of the things he acquired. “Can you help me put them in the yard?”

Sure thing.

“You can’t keep everything. You know that, right?”

He sold quite a few things that day — mostly fishing and hunting gear — a few outboard motor parts and tools. The spread extended into my yard and included an alcove in one of his cars, which was parked on the street. The four battered hardwood school chairs with attached desks didn’t sell. “Can you believe that?”

Yes. Yes, I can.

He never made it to the next garage sale day, and the stuff clearly never moved. When the auctioneer showed me the house, I felt the walls close in while I wandered around and nervously ran my mouth — his house a hoarder’s mirror image of my own.

The only room that was orderly was the basement. He liked to fix things, and all his tools had their place on the wall. Bars extended from the beams carried neatly hung hip waders and Carhartt jackets. This was the stuff that was clearly his.

Neighbor Dawn told me that Al felt alone in this world without his dad. Clearly the concept of impermanence had no place in that house as he carried the past around like a Sherpa. Everything fixed to a point in time.

When the bidding was going on, I asked about a lot number for the wind chime on the front porch. The family gave it to me. I put it in a side porch I intend to renovate soon. The partially screened walls mean no wind hits it. Unlike when it was his, I never hear it now. This week, the auction company finally hauled his two boats out of the back yard and erased the last daily reminder of him.

Al's house on State Street
Al’s house